Gordon Thompson (City College), "Aesthetic Dissonance: Representing Blackness in African American Art and Literature"'
Talk two of the New Approaches to African American Literature series. Visual images and written descriptions of Blacks proliferated during the early decades of the twentieth century, sending differing or incompatible messages about color, complexion, and aesthetic values out to the emerging black community. Yet, the works of the Harlem Renaissance period were fraught with cognitive dissonance, conflicted, as it were, about notions of beauty. That transcendent sense of well-being that aestheticians perceive as the role of beauty, was often deflected in these early works. Beauty was always emergent or elsewhere, but rarely immanent in the black image, be it the face, the complexion, the body, the speech, or even the thoughts of black subjects, unless meliorated by the infusion of a significant dose of European characteristics.This paper attempts to isolate the strategies black image makers employed to wrench the contentions connotations from the slogan, Black is beautiful, in an effort to create narratives, visual or literary, that would serve to give joy, to energize, or to help complete the African American reader/observer’s sense of self.